KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
On Nov. 14, Keesler came together to salvage food from a transit aircraft that had maintenance issues en route to Honduras to deliver approximately 15,000 pounds of food rations.
Their mission was delayed and eventually cancelled due to a safety concern.
“Our captain got a call from emergency management about an issue at the fire department where there wasn’t a lot of information given initially,” said Tech. Sgt. Erik Perthel, 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron community health NCO in charge. “We initially thought it would be some kind of issue with their fridge or freezer within the fire department.”
The public health clinic typically responds to freezer outages or salvage issues at the dining facilities or the commissary where food is being sold, so the team thought it was out of the ordinary when they were dispatched to the fire department.
“We got to the fire department and I was still thinking it had something to do with their personal fridge, but they led us straight past their kitchen and out to the flightline,” said Staff. Sgt. Taylor Tipton, 81st AMDS food safety and entomology NCO in charge. “That’s when the escort told us to go talk to the incident commander.”
After receiving a briefing on the situation, the team sprang into action to try to salvage as much food as possible that was on the aircraft.
“We had to unload all of the pallets, deconstruct them and go through every single box to look at every single food item to ensure it is safe for consumption,” said Tipton. “We were only able to salvage about a third of what they had on the aircraft due to the temperature and the types of food.”
While the team was inspecting the food, they called in for reinforcements.
“We had the entire bioenvironmental flight out there and the extra hands helped,” said Tipton. “The fire department helped us with any of our requests like equipment to cut the steel tabs on the boxes. The 41st Aerial Port Squadron was moving the boxes for us so we didn’t have to and the environmental flight was also helpful.”
Since they were working on a limited time frame, Perthel was scrambling to finding areas around base to store the food.
“I reached out to different areas like the commissary and the dining facilities to find a freezer or a refrigerated storage area,” said Perthel. “I was able to get that from the dining facility in the hospital as well as the Azalea Dining Facility.”
Perthel continued to call around only this time, to the local community food banks.
“I was able to coordinate half the food out on Friday to a local food bank in Ocean Springs and then yesterday [Nov. 18] Feeding the Gulf Coast was able to pick up the rest,” said Perthel.
Through the swift action and coordination of the various units on base, Keesler was able to salvage approximately 3,000 pounds of food worth $10,000.
“I know the Airmen involved in salvaging the food feel phenomenal about what they did and it’s unfortunate that it didn’t go to its original destination, but knowing there are still people here that needed it and benefited from it feels good,” said Tipton. “I’m just thankful for Keesler because we really wouldn’t have been able to do half of this without the support of everyone who was out there.”